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The Key to My Cell Paperback – 1 May 2007
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This book was not written by a Journalist or a university professer but by a Building worker telling his own story
Dennis (Des) Warren along with Eric (Ricky) Tomlinson were to become known as the Shrewsbury Two, This is the story of Des Warrens fight against the trumped up charge of conspiracy brought against Ricky & Himself for “Picketing”
You will learn what happened at the trials of the 24 Shrewsbury Pickets and how it became obvious the trials where being managed from outside the courts
Des holds nothing back in his account of the betrayals by the leadership of the Working Class (TUC general council, UCATT (Building Union of which Des was a member), the Right wing of the Labour party leadership especially home secretary Roy Jenkins and the CPGB of which Des was a long serving member
You will learn of all the inhumane ill treatment suffered whilst in prison and the use of the Liquid cosh (Mixture of drugs) to keep him under control
This book is important to the working class in the struggle against Capitalism and the betrayals of their leaders of the time,
The trials lead to changes in the trade union & employment laws which Thatcher used in her fights with the Steelworkers, Carworkers & finally the Miners gradually changing the laws and outlawing mass picketing & the closed shop
Warren was arrested alongside twenty-three other building workers, whose 'flying picket' had been trying to persuade Shrewsbury builders to join a nationwide strike. Ted Heath's Conservative government was on the back foot at the time, following action by mine workers in particular, and business leaders were fearful of militancy spreading across all industries.
Though Warren was eventually imprisoned for 'conspiracy to intimidate', his book describes in great detail 'the real conspiracy' to put him behind bars, which would serve as a deterrent to other workers hoping to improve their conditions. The author was clear that he didn't take his sentence personally, because 'The Tory Government wasn't interested in me or my 23 co-victims. They were attacking the trade union movement'. However, he also insisted that he was abandoned by union leaders, who in practice only led 'the front of the queue when honours are dished out.'
The chapters that describe Warren's prison life are fascinating in of themselves, painting a vivid picture of the power struggles and hierarchies that exist inside. Because he regarded himself as a 'political prisoner', Warren frequently caused trouble for the 'screws', and always stood up for his fellow inmates when they were being particularly victimised. When he told a prison doctor about some sleeping problems, he was prescribed a chemical cocktail known as the 'liquid cosh', which severely curtailed his resistance, and caused the Parkinson's disease which would kill him three decades later.
Not surprisingly, The Key To My Cell is full of anger. But Warren's book is in many ways a gift to the generations of activists who would come after him, because there's also sharp analysis of the forces at work in the case. It's also very readable, despite the dozens of organisations and their initials which accompany trade union and party politics.
The campaign to get justice for the Shrewsbury Pickets was relaunched in August last year, and has the passionate support of Ricky Tomlinson, who stood trial alongside Des Warren and wrote a forward for this book. Building workers still face disgusting pay and conditions, but they're by no means alone in that. The story of Des Warren has lessons for anyone struggling against the rich and powerful.